Interview with Eric Ponvelle

What are your five favorite books, and why?
1. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

I found Douglas Adams later in life. I bought a collection of all 5 of the HHGTTG novels, and I started to work my way through them. I absolutely fell in love with the universe he created, but nothing was more perfect than Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I preferred the story of Restaurant at the End of the Universe, but I still credit the first for teleporting me to a world so unreal that I have tried hard to find something close to it.

Arthur Dent is the most mild-mannered character in fiction, I believe, and his interaction with aliens, technology, and life is just so real and heart-warming to me that it is making me want to read it again right now.

2. House of Leaves

House of Leaves was a book I grabbed at random while at Books-A-Million during my high school years. I hadn't heard anything about it other than a friend saying it had a weird writing style. I started reading it about a year or two later, and damn...

As a lucid dreamer, I have no fears of the dark or things like that. I am actually quite comfortable since I am often awake in the dark, witching hours of the night, but while reading that book, I had chills if I walked by a dark room. I became slightly paranoid about nothing in particular, and my dreams were very unsettling and terrifying.

The writing style, which was my first time actually paying attention to that sort of thing, really drew me in too. I felt like I was part of the book. House of Leaves showed me that books don't need to be just content on paper in straight lines. They can change that. I hope to use some ideas I learned to create multimedia experiences in the future.

3. Ready Player One

Ready Player One is the Reddit book of choice for a while now. I grabbed it from the library, and I quickly found myself hooked. The book isn't, admittedly, very deep, but I don't care. I was so immersed into the plot that I think I finished it faster than any other book to date. I took a lot away from this novel. I learned how to add in pacing, and how to characterize by plot rather than forcing something to come about.

4. Red Dragon

Red Dragon was the first book I read for fun. I started to love reading much later than most. I remember seeing "The First Encounter with Hannibal Lecter" on the cover while at Wal-Mart, and my mom flat out refused to buy me Silence of the Lambs, but she got this one instead, probably having no idea that it was a series.

At 13, I was sucked into the book like nothing else. I understood reading on a whole new level, and I just had legitimate and true enjoyment exploring this macabre world that felt so life-like. It stuck with me for a while and left me sleepless a lot, but the story resonated within me because, like Will Graham, I find it really easy to empathize and put myself into the brain of another person, fictional or non. Discovering this ability made Red Dragon a very important read to me.

5. Shadow Over Innsmouth/The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

This may seem like a cheat but hear me out. I had only tangentially heard of HP Lovecraft until I played Elder Scrolls Oblivion. In the game, there is a mission called Shadow Over Hackdirt. It is a recreation of this Lovecraft story. Learning that, I had to buy the book of it. I later learned it was a novella, and I actually bought a Lovecraft collection with a bunch of other stories.

Shadow Over Innsmouth really captured my understanding of horror and otherworldliness that quickly defined my horror writing style. The terror that the narrator felt was one I understood in many backwoods areas of Louisiana. It was easy to imagine that some of the forgotten towns in my area could be a real Innsmouth waiting to happen.

The book also contained The Case of Charles Dexter Ward which solidified my love for HP Lovecraft. His use of language, subtly, and tension building to present this story of a nefarious mystery man with a tainted history hit every chord in my horror knowledge. Reading that story, after Shadow, got me into understanding horror on a whole new level.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
Kindle Paperwhite is my current go-to device.

I was ardently opposed to eBooks back in college as a young English major. Then, I did a presentation on Kindle as it was just coming out, and I learned A LOT about the device. I was the type who argued that no digital book would replace physical books until I did this report and realized the ramifications.

I bought a used first generation Kindle before it really had much value. I remember it was a struggle just to get free books off of Project Gutenberg onto it, and I quickly gave it away. Then, I just used my phone for a while, which feels like blasphemy now. A few years back I switched to a Nexus tablet which felt perfect. I could read books anywhere, in a very nice form factor, and I could do other stuff, like writing, web browsing, and games. Somewhere in there though, I realized I was using my tablet solely for the Kindle app, and the actual devices were on sale often. I decided to scale back to a simpler device, and I haven't looked back. The back-light makes it really easy to read at night and outside, and the charge lasts so long I forget it actually has battery power. I have yet to run into any format issues either.

Every time I grab it, I still feel a great sense of wonder that I have more books on a device that I can fit into my pocket than I do on a small bookshelf in my room.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
When I write my bio for submissions, I like to include that I grew up in the swamps of Louisiana. That area has been so important to my development as a writer that I still can't fully grasp its impact.

Lovecraft placed a lot of horror in the area, and the spot I grew up in was rural in every sense of the word. The TV show "Swamp People" was filmed fairly close to where I lived to give some context, and the air just smelled like decay and death. When I visited during a vacation, I got so sick living off the food and air that I realized that all my previous health issues and general unhappiness were directly related to that place. It also dawned on me just how many people I knew and loss to sickness. It makes me glad I got out.

That negativity said, the culture is very unique and special. People are friendly in a way that's uncommon to strangers in other areas. You feel truly welcomed wherever you go. And I guess that's where I get a lot of inspiration. You feel welcomed, but underneath all that hospitality is a lurking shadow of death.
What's the story behind your latest book?
My next novel started as an attempt at a shared world project. If you are unfamiliar with the term, it is really cool. Someone creates a universe, maybe with a book, or in this case, literally just the world building and an encyclopedia. They invite authors to contribute to the world to make it richer in tone and characters. No two authors will write exactly the same, so you have a very unique and diverse universe.

The problem is the project either died or they stopped returning my emails, and now, I am left with a story I built in someone else's world. The caveat: I had my characters exist outside of their world as much as possible. A solid editing job will make the story mine again, and I think it's a fascinating book. I just couldn't play completely in someone's playground without trying out the fringes first.

The story is about a former military-turned-bodyguard-with-a-side-of-kleptomania. His thievery job gets him the most money, but he doesn't bath in cash. That is until this one job asks him to steal a piece of jewelry from a university for more than he sees in a year. While suspicious, he isn't even remotely ready for the true horror that comes with what he agrees to do.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I'm a technologist at heart, and I really love art and culture. Terrance McKenna once said "We have to stop consuming our culture. We have to create culture." That really resonated within me for a long time when I first heard it in college. I couldn't act on that advice though because I was still stuck in a mindset, and I still went with the traditional published route with my novel.

The results were fascinating. I had mostly stock letters from agents and publishers. The last one that left me shaking my head was an agent saying my book had great characters, plot, takes on ideas, and worldbuilding, but the writing wasn't where they wanted it, citing specific gaps in my writing. They wanted more description in the form of showing, which I believed there was plenty, but they wanted it shoved into action scenes where readers are much more interested in the plot than a simile for eye color (I keep those to a minimum).

So, it dawned on me: the traditional publishing model wants new and original stories written like what sells, or they want established names. I think my style of writing is unique to me, and I think it is very unfair to readers to assume they want to read an author who is like someone else.

At the end of the day, I think I can do my potential readership a far greater service by selling to them than doing the proper show for the gatekeepers. I have a lot of unique ideas that won't work in that old model, like eventually giving away older books, my loose copyright that allows readers to adapt my work, some app ideas, and websites for each book. This is stuff that you don't see in the traditional setting, but you see in the indie space, and I love it.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I am a life-long lucid dreamer and a reader. When I am not writing, I am looking for new developments in lucid dreaming as well as talking to other people with their experiences. I find it helps me build on ideas and content for my own dreams.

I also read constantly. I read either books or news articles, but I try to make sure I am always reading SOMETHING to stay on the pulse with things. I usually start on Reddit and use that as a jumping point to research more topics.

With fiction, I try to stay in the Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and Horror genres, since that's what I enjoy writing, and I think it's smart to know what has been done, good or bad.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
I use StoryBundle to generate a lot of authors that I wouldn't have heard of otherwise. I also read the Reddit subreddit SuggestMeABook, where readers will offer books and topics they like, and people will provide suggestions. I've found a lot of great reading material through here.

I also always check the library's overdrive account to make sure I am finding stuff that is current as well as classic. Finally, I check Kindle and Smashwords, not to pander, but because if I expect others to use the platform, I should too to find books. These two sources allow me to find much more "off the beaten trail" reading I wouldn't find on the mainstream lists.

My current eBook backlog is quite large, and I am working on catching up before I do any more searching for books.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
The first good story I wrote was a first person story of the shaving process related to the narrator's life. I have received a lot of powerful feedback from this story, and I need to work on exposing it outside of my circle of friends.

I remember in high school I wrote a story about a boy fighting his township's leaders, and before that, I wrote about an elf that had a bunch of adventures. I was in 2nd grade when I thought him up, and I started making him a recurring character in art projects since I would start to day dream a lot.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
When I hear a reader come back to me and tell me something really grabbed them, all the headaches, frustration, doubt, and fears of writing are instantly wiped away. Hearing that my words affected a person beyond what others have is just a wonderful sensation that is hard to replicate outside of art.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
I am very pragmatic, and I tend to live in the moment. I used to have a lot of baggage and depression weighing me down where the answer to this would be "I don't think anything really does." It was a pretty sad time.

Now, I can answer truthfully the things that gets me out of bed are learning new things and making people I care about happy. Work is work to make life doable, but everything else means more to me in every single way.
Published 2015-03-18.
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